To get workers for the Nations of the World, Epcot recruits college students living in these countries to come to the U.S. for a year and work in service jobs. They live in what sounded to me a lot like a Cold War-era nuclear bunker under the park (Walt Disney was known for planning ahead, I guess) and come out in the daytime to serve food and sell souvenirs. Wearing, of course, their national costumes. Having seen the Viking armor and longboats, it was really heart-wrenching to be served waffles by proud Norwegians in stockings and lederhosen. Besides, wasn't that supposed to be the Germans' schtick?
Um. The Lederhosen, not the cruel and unusual torment.
I talked to one of them. "Yeah," he said, "we have to work a lot. But they give us our evenings off."
I asked him if he was enjoying America, or if he thought it was that different. "It's nice," he said, "warm. But my boss keeps trying to get me to go to church."
I nodded in sympathy. Norway, by some measures, is 71% secular, something I regard with fascination and admiration. I wondered aloud if Thor might be persuaded to strike the man down.
He laughed. "No, but really, it's a really great opportunity."
Norwegians. I wanted to tell him that in his forefathers' days, there woulda been a lot more pillaging and a lot less appreciation. How the noble Vikings have fallen--!
Each pavilion is notable for featuring native cuisine, except, of course, the African pavilion, which featured none at all. The irony was not lost on me, nor the indignity that what was clearly an image of Africa--drums, staffs carved with lion heads, a dearth of edible foodstuff--was labeled simply "Outpost".
I think my greatest disappointments were in what they left out, not what they had there. I searched China for a tank I could stand in front of for a picture, but it turned out they didn't have any. I felt this was inauthentic and a terrible oversight on the part of the Disney Corporation. England, similarly, lacked the Sex Pistols, Dr Who, and Harry Potter. Really, who cares about Buckingham Palace when there's real culture to see?
My brother and I toured France together.
"It's just like Paris," I observed, "but without gypsies trying to fleece you at every turn."
My brother stared at me blankly. "Phillip. It's a Disney park."
"Okay," I amended. "It's just like Paris, except everyone is a gypsy and they're all on crack."
The Eiffel Tower, by the way? Nothing but a silhouette on the horizon. What a gyp. I cursed the shoddy gypsy workmanship and moved on.
Canada! Oh Canada. A pavilion done out in logs, staffed by real Canadians, dressed in lumberjack flannel. I weighed the discomfort of flannel in Florida heat against the sheer humiliation of wearing it for a year, and wondered again when Disney had signed its contract with Satan.
We watched the film in the pavilion, hosted by a pretty blonde Canadian girl. It has been a fine American tradition to politely harass Canadians whenever one happens by ever since they burned down the White House in the War of 1812. At my brother's opportunity, I went up to talk to her.
"You know," I said, "my girlfriend's name is Sarah Redden."
She nodded, confused.
"She lives in Canada," I went on.
"Toronto or Ontario. One of those places."
"Toronto's in Ontario, actually."
"You might know her," I said.
She looked a bit affronted. "You know, Canada's actually a pretty big place."
I shrugged. That stuff's all relative. "Maybe it was Buffalo."
"That's in New York."
I left with a new respect for America. We don't wear funny costumes, and we'll at least pretend to know that friend of yours who lives in America. We'd never live under Disneyworld, and we proudly display tanks at all our parks. Take that, China.